Monday, July 22, 2013

Double truth (2)

In my blog on double truth last week I argued that the truth of a statement must often be put into perspective and that it may depend on the position of the person who utters the statement. I expressed this by saying that truth can be double or even multiple. Is that all there is?
I begun to think about this question, when I heard about a new doping scandal in sport. This time it is not in cycle racing, which gradually seems to become cleaner. No, the present scandal is in athletics, where recently a range of athletes, among them several Olympic gold medal winners, have been exposed as doping users. This raised in me the question: Has there always been doping?
When searching for the answer on the Internet, I discovered that it is yes and no. Since sport in its present manifestation goes back to classical antiquity I wondered how it was in those days and what I found was double: yes, doping existed; no, it did not exist. I’ll not go into the details, but indeed, it was so that in Greece and Rome athletes and their trainers of all kinds of sports had discovered that there are nutrients but also, for example, mushrooms that improved the sporting achievements. The answer is no, since there was no doping in the modern sense for there were no rules that forbade the use of doping. Paraphrasing Feyerabend, it was “everything goes”. Doping as we know it today, so drugs that are explicitly forbidden because they improve the results, is a recent phenomenon. One website says that it was in 1865 that in modern times the positive effects of doping were established for the first time, when Dutch cross-Channel swimmers used caffeine. The first sportsman who died by using doping is said to be Arthur Linton, the 1896 winner of the Bordeaux-Paris cycling race, who died eight weeks after his victory. Since then gradually rules have been made that forbid the use of doping in sport, and now the list of “List of Prohibited Substances and Methods” is long. However, developing rules and adding drugs to the prohibited list is not one-way. Sometimes drugs that were once not allowed have been removed from the list again. Caffeine is a case in point. Until 2004 it was on the list when a certain threshold value had been exceeded. Then it has been dropped from the list, and a sportsman or sportswoman can drink as many cups of coffee and other caffeine containing drinks as s/he likes.
What does this mean for my theory of double or multiple truths? The statement that a range of athletes recently has been exposed as doping users is true from the present perspective: According to the present sport laws they simple are doping offenders. Using oxilofrine and other dope, as they did, is a sports offence today. But if they had used the same drug on, say, the Olympic Games of 676 BC they would have been no more than smart athletes who followed the rules and who would have been honoured as decent winners. Using oxilofrine was no offence at all. Even if the use of dope could and would have been established afterwards then, nobody would have thought of depriving them of their titles. They would have been honest winners.
The upshot is that truth cannot only be double or multiple if we take the perspective of another person or of other persons, it can also be double or multiple from the perspective of time: what is true at one point in time need not be true at another point in time. We can also say: Truth has both a synchronic and a diachronic dimension.


Grace said...

Your style is so gentle and you are softly pushing to your final statements: I almost figured out myself that an epoch dictated its own truth, until I had read your last paragraph. :) What is acceptable for some people may not be for others, that's true.

I just think, whose truth is really true: the more evident facts a person shows, the more "true" his truth appears to be? It seems that there is one global truth and the other truths are just minor truths that are leading to this total truth.
Am I mistaken?

HbdW said...

Thank you for your nice comment, Grace. I think that social "truths" have a limited range and are only valid within limited circles of people with the same basic values and culture. It makes me think of Wittgenstein's idea of family resemblances. These circles can be smaller and bigger (whole societies, for instances) and differences in the idea what is true can make that people and cultures clash. What we see now in this age of globalisation is that the values of one culture are spreading around the world. Of course, there may be good reasons for it that some western ideas (like democracy) tend to get the upperhand. But in the end it's just one idea, how valuable it may be and what may be the good reasons for defending it. I think that there are no objective standards of measurement.